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apr 12 2010

Cuba prepares for an end to the travel ban

A year ago, we blogged about Congress's debate over lifting the travel ban for Americans to Cuba. Here's an update…

Cuban officials are banking that the ban will end soon, and they have begun to prepare for a boom in business. The country recently announced plans to open nine new hotels this year, adding about 50,000 rooms to the island. (For perspective, consider that Las Vegas added only 14,000 rooms in the past year.)

Unofficially, travel to Cuba has already picked up. More and more Americans are visiting thanks to legal loopholes that allow "research trips." Two years ago, the State Department were very selective about who was obtain to visas for these trips, and few citizens were allowed to go. But today, Americans who aren't specialized academics, musicians, or full-time missionaries are often being granted visas because of more lenient U.S. officials, says The Miami Herald. A few tour groups use websites to tout their expertise in making the system work.

Illegal travel also appears to be on the rise, too. By not having their passport book stamped in Cuba, travelers can avoid U.S. punishment. "U.S. customs officers don't issue citations for violations of the U.S. Cuba policy, but rather refer cases to the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control," reports the AP. Interestingly, the Treasury Department has not prosecuted any American in recent years for violating the law.

Sadly, the dictatorship's mistreatment of dissidents continues.

And that angers U.S. officials, delaying the effort to lift the ban. On the one hand, the Senate's Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act has the 60 votes needed to pass, according to its champion, Sen. Byron Dorgan. But the companion bill in the House of Representatives faces an uphill battle. It has 178 supporters so far, and it needs 40 more votes to pass. President Obama has not said where he stands on the issue.

It doesn't look like the ban will be lifted for another year or two. But many more Americans will be visiting thanks to lax enforecment of the law.

Would you be eager to visit?

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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